On the same day that active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia hit more than 10,500 — more than 10 times the number from early last month — Gov. Jim Justice made it clear that he either doesn’t have a plan or his plan is to do nothing.
Justice has continued to hint that a mask mandate, something that West Virginia operated under for nearly a year, and other public health measures — including closing schools — might be necessary, if vaccination rates don’t improve and cases continue to go up. Because of the delta variant of the coronavirus, as of Monday, active cases were at a level not seen in West Virginia since late January. When, pray tell, will it register with the governor that his outlined conditions for action have been taking place for more than a month?
Instead, during his Monday briefing, Justice railed against bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., relating to the availability of booster shots. That’s a genuine concern, but it’s in distant second place, when a mere 50.3% of the state population has been fully vaccinated to begin with.
Before vaccines were developed, indeed, before they were widely available to the general public, Justice championed masks as the best tool for fighting the spread of COVID-19. When asked about a mask mandate on Monday, the governor undermined his own previous statements, questioning the effectiveness of masks, although he (perhaps accidentally) admitted it was more of a political concern.
“You know how crazy people get about the masks,” he said. “It’s like a hysteria.”
Better to have people content while sick and dying than preventing those illnesses, the governor apparently surmises.
After Justice’s careless answer, Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus czar, immediately stated that masks give people a better chance at staving off infection or infecting anyone else. As more cases spread, even to those who have been vaccinated, Marsh advised that masks should be worn.
Even still, the root of the problem is the low vaccination rate. Justice’s promotions for chances at cash and other prizes, in exchange for getting vaccinated, are likely having some impact, but there hasn’t been a large uptick. The overall vaccination rate continues to climb at about a 10th of a percentage point each day, sometimes lower.
Instead of closing his briefing encouraging West Virginians to look out for themselves and each other, to be safe and to get vaccinated, Justice took a vindictive swipe at the Greenbrier County Board of Education. The board voted Monday morning against hiring the governor as the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball coach (he already coaches the girls team). Justice again suggested he could run the state and two high school basketball teams, asking that open question, “What have I missed?”
There’s a laundry-list reply to that for another day. In the moment, the governor missed the entire point of his job, and he forgot his promise from the beginning of the pandemic to do what is necessary to keep West Virginians safe, regardless of whether it’s a popular decision.